Sig­nals: Why Is Tesla Killing AM Ra­dio?

Sound & Vision - - CON­TENTS - Ken C. Pohlmann

You just bought a Tesla. Con­grat­u­la­tions! You, my friend, are driv­ing the wave of the fu­ture. While ev­ery­one else is burn­ing di­nosaur drop­pings, you are pro­pelled ever on­ward by the mag­i­cal en­ergy of the sun and the wind. Gaia, the pri­mal Mother Earth God­dess, loves you.

On the other hand, and I feel bad telling you this, you are also a mur­derer. One of my fond­est child­hood mem­o­ries is care­fully ad­just­ing my ra­dio’s spindly an­tenna and pulling in KMOX to lis­ten to St. Louis Car­di­nal base­ball. Now you want to kill that. Thanks a lot.

Your car is sleek. It’s pow­ered by re­new­able en­ergy. It drives it­self down the road. The govern­ment gave you money to help you buy it. It ac­cel­er­ates like no­body’s busi­ness. It’s a Tesla, for

Ra­dio in­ter­fer­ence is a prob­lem in hy­brids and elec­tric cars.

heaven’s sake. And it’s killing AM ra­dio. That’s right—your fal­con-wing Model X does not have an AM ra­dio. You can only find AM sta­tions streamed via the TuneIn app.

From my back porch I can watch SpaceX rock­ets blast­ing off, and oc­ca­sion­ally land­ing, at dis­tant Cape Canaveral. SpaceX is a heck of a com­pany, and Elon Musk is a heck of a guy. The omis­sion of an ac­tual AM re­ceiver is prob­a­bly not due to any per­sonal mal­ice to­ward tech­nol­ogy.

I sur­mise three rea­sons for Tesla omit­ting AM ra­dios: First, an AM ra­dio might seem old-fash­ioned in a car of the fu­ture. Sec­ond, there are lots of other lis­ten­ing op­tions (like the in­ter­net). Third, and most im­por­tant, is noise.

Try this some­time: Turn on an AM ra­dio, then fire up your DeWalt power drill. Whoa!

Now, all cars gen­er­ate elec­tro­mag­netic in­ter­fer­ence, and pre­cau­tions must be taken to mit­i­gate its ef­fects on the ra­dio. Ra­dio in­ter­fer­ence is a prob­lem in some hy­brids, and it’s worse in an all-elec­tric car. The mit­i­ga­tion must be ro­bust, and ap­par­ently Tesla has de­cided that clean AM re­cep­tion is no longer worth the ef­fort.

As you know, an AM ra­dio is de­signed to re­spond to changes in am­pli­tude in the re­ceived car­rier wave­form; those changes con­vey the au­dio sig­nal. How­ever, the ra­dio strug­gles to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween the au­dio sig­nal and am­pli­tude­vary­ing noise. In con­trast, in FM ra­dio, the car­rier is fre­quency-mod­u­lated; the ra­dio can re­ject am­pli­tude-vary­ing noise.

The Tesla Model X does not have an AM re­ceiver, and nei­ther does the BMW i3. The older Tesla Model S does have an AM ra­dio. But here’s the thing: The fu­ture of ve­hi­cles is elec­tric. As more and more cars and trucks go elec­tric, I sus­pect that more com­pa­nies will fol­low the lead of Tesla and BMW, and fewer ve­hi­cles will have AM ra­dios. Most AM lis­ten­ing is done while driv­ing. Ergo, in a few decades, AM broad­cast­ing may dis­ap­pear. “AM” sta­tions will be AM in name only; they won’t mod­u­late a car­rier, and in­stead just ex­cite some in­ter­net elec­trons.

Maybe lis­ten­ing to AM via the in­ter­net is bet­ter than ac­tual ra­dio. But to me, it’s not. For starters, the static in an AM broad­cast is as in­te­gral to the lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as the sur­face noise on a vinyl record. I’ll miss Car­di­nal base­ball ac­com­pa­nied by the mys­te­ri­ous static that in­formed me of nearby thun­der­storms. Eu­ro­pean coun­tries are al­ready pulling the plug on AM broad­cast­ing. Call it progress, call it col­lat­eral dam­age, call it what­ever you want. For me, it’s an­other stake in the heart of my child­hood mem­o­ries.

Fi­nally, let’s con­sider a tan­gen­tially re­lated is­sue. Maybe you never lis­tened to a ball­game and don’t care that AM broad­cast ra­dio might be doomed. But I bet you fondly re­mem­ber lis­ten­ing to Dark Side of the Moon on FM ra­dio. Then be ad­vised that Nor­way, tak­ing the lead in Europe, is shut­ting down all of its FM broad­cast sta­tions.

Just sayin’.

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